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Shakespeare clearly was not averse to having his works published. His narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece he also published, with a fulsome dedication to the Earl of Southampton.The fact that many of his plays were not published in his lifetime may have many explanations.
However, setting aside the supposedly unsavoury nature of the work, (which I shall deal with later), there is strong internal evidence that the Sonnets were carefully prepared for publication.Nearly three quarters of the 154 sonnets are addressed to a man.The remaining ones mostly describe rather lurid episodes in his infatuation for a dark woman, the so called ‘dark lady’ of the sonnets.All these events were important at the time to those directly involved and to a lesser extent to the wider world.However few would regard the publication of We therefore are indebted to the publisher of this book for bringing to light an incomparable series of poems which has no equal in world literature.Yet there is ample evidence to show that he was not such a man, that he was very practical, concerned with establishing his position in society, and concerned that his family name should continue after his death.
His will alone is enough to establish this point, with its detailed conditional bestowal of assets down to the possible sixth and seventh sons of his daughter Susannah and to their heirs.
It may seem strange to modern taste, but it was not unusual at the time.
In any case there is a notable harmonious relationship between the three sections, characterised broadly by their themes, as follows.
These are of course all conjectures, but we should not take the absence of evidence about Shakespeare’s publishing intentions to be indicative that he did not wish to have his Sonnets published.
The main basis for the claim that the work was pirated has always been that there is something unsavoury in the subject matter of the poems.
The author was perhaps too busy to arrange the awkward business of publication.